The Pre Buddhist Religious Beliefs in Ancient Sri Lanka

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International Journal of Research and Innovation in Social Science (IJRISS) | Volume III, Issue VI, June 2019 | ISSN 2454–6186

The Pre Buddhist Religious Beliefs in Ancient Sri Lanka

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Dr. Geethani Amratunga1, Dr. Nadeesha Gunawardana2

1Department of Sociology and 2Department of History, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka

Abstract: – There was evidently no national or state religion systematically organized in the island before Buddhism introduce to Sri Lanka in the third century B.C.E. The Hiuen Tsiang says the kingdom of Sinhala formerly was addicted to immoral religious worship. Divyāvadana shed light to prove the visit of traders during the time of Lord Buddha. The worshiping of ancestors, worshiping of Yakśas, worshiping of gods or Dēvās, Nigaṇṭas, Ṡaivaism can be identified. Paribbājakas and Ājīvakas, Pāsaṇḍas and Pabbajitās and many other ascetics, known as Samaṇas seem to have been found in fair numbers in the island. Almost all the important deities who survived after the introduction of Buddhism became Buddhist sooner or later. This paper proposes to discuss the significance of all these above mentioned factors. Before Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the third century B.C.E, there was evidently no national or state religion systematically organized in the island (Rahula Walpola, 1956: 34). We can categorized the pre Buddhist beliefs in ancient Sri Lanka as follows:The worship of yakśas, the worship of yakśanis (female yakśas), the worship of Nāgās, the Ancestor worship, the worship of deities, the worship of female deities, the worship of trees, Brahmanism, Nigaṇthas. Śaivisam, Paribbrājakas and Ᾱjīvakas andBuddhism.

Key words: beliefs, Buddhism, ancient, worship


The worship of yakśas seems to have been a popular and prevalent cult in ancient Sri Lanka. As recorded in the chronicles in Sri Lanka the Lord Buddha has visited three times to Sri Lanka, in his life time. In the ninth month of his Buddhahood, at the full moon day Buddha himself set forth for the island of Lanka, to settle a dispute of yakśa who lived near Mahānāga garden (M.v. 1950, 1:19-20, 51). The king Paṇḍkābhaya (5th B.C.E) has constructed houses for the yakśas such as Chitrarāja and Kālavēla. The mention is made in Mahāvaṃsa as follows “he settled the yakkha Kāḷvēla on the east side of the city, the Yakkha Cittarāja at the lower end of the Abhaya tank” (M.v. 1912, 10:84, 51).


The same king has housed the yakśani Valavāmukhī within the royal precincts and made early sacrificial offerings them and to other yakśas (M.v. 1950, 10:86, 54).